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ESA Shakes Up Copernicus Satellite to Combat Climate Change
ESA Shakes Up Copernicus Satellite to Combat Climate Change

Engineers spend years developing satellites, and the last thing they want is for them to get shaken to pieces by the rumbling rocket during the first two minutes of launch. That’s why the European Space Agency (ESA) is putting its Copernicus satellite through rigorous vibration testing in preparation for its big liftoff in 2025.

The specific satellite being tested is the Copernicus Anthropogenic Carbon Dioxide Monitoring mission (CO2M), which, when operational, will monitor and track carbon dioxide emissions from human activity. It is one of six Copernicus Sentinel Expansion missions that will complement the existing suite of satellites currently collecting data on urbanisation, food security, rising sea levels, diminishing polar ice, natural disasters and climate change.

While nations gather in Britain for the COP26 summit to set emissions reduction targets, engineers at ESA’s ESTEC test facilities in the Netherlands are subjecting CO2M to electrodynamic shakers that violently rattle the satellite, simulating the conditions at launch.

Setting emissions targets is one thing, but hitting them is another, and doing the latter requires accurate measurement tools to monitor nations’ progress toward cutting down on greenhouse gases. CO2M is intended to help the EU assess the effectiveness of policy interventions and track their impact towards decarbonising Europe.

ESA Shakes Up Copernicus Satellite to Combat Climate Change
Yasjka Meijer

“Remarkably, the mission will enable us to distinguish between natural sources of carbon dioxide and sources that are a result of human activity,” said Yasjka Meijer, CO2M Mission Scientist at the ESA. “This is no easy matter because the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere comes from many sources, but each source only contributes a small amount. We need to measure very precisely if the mission is going to provide reliable data to ensure that governments are meeting their targets.”

CO2M is planned as a two-satellite mission, with the option of a third satellite. They each will carry a near-infrared and shortwave-infrared spectrometer to measure atmospheric carbon dioxide at high spatial resolution. These measurements will eventually reduce uncertainties in estimates of human emissions of carbon dioxide.

ESA Shakes Up Copernicus Satellite to Combat Climate Change
Valerie Fernandez

“Everyone is working hard to keep the development of the mission running to a tight schedule,” said Valerie Fernandez, ESA’s CO2M Project Manager. “The current suite of tests is being carried out on the structural model of the satellite at ESTEC. It is now on a shaker, which tests the satellite’s mechanical integrity to make sure that it is sufficiently rigid and will survive the vibrations of launch. These tests will allow us to consolidate the satellite design and move quickly towards the next steps in the hardware procurement. Although we have to work as efficiently as possible, the team is being very careful and thorough to ensure that CO2M will be a world class mission and something Europe can be extremely proud of.”

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